Words with Guides: Cynthia Ogorek

Published on August 19, 2022

What better way is there to learn about the tours we offer, than to meet the guides who build them? Our latest installment is with Whoa! Guide Cynthia Ogorek, who created our Hidden Pullman: Sewers, Alleys and Women tour.

Try Cynthia’s eATLAS tour of the Pullman district, Hidden Pullman: Sewers, Alleys and Women today! Use code Pullman20 to save 20% thru September 30th.

Cynthia was born and raised in the Calumet region—that stretch along the south shore of Lake Michigan that straddles the line between Illinois and Indiana. After spending time in California, she returned to the area and began a career as a writer. Her work ranged from creating historical reviews of the lives of nursing home residents to writing nominations for buildings to be added to the National Register of Historic Places.

She decided she needed another degree, and earned a master’s in history. Rather than go into teaching, she realized writing and publishing was a better fit. Billing herself as The Public Historian led to a parallel career as a lecturer, for which she soon discovered had an innate flair. As she says with a laugh, she loves “running off at the mouth!”

It was the energy of standing before an attentive crowd that she found thrilling. “When you’re onstage, you can feel the audience,” she continues. “Sometimes you can literally feel it. People are enthralled and engaged and enjoying it. It’s great! So I just ham it up and people love it!”

Cynthia was hired to speak on subjects ranging from the history of the Calumet region to first ladies from the Midwest. She joined the Chicago Area Women’s History Conference and contributed to the Encyclopedia of Chicago Women.

Cynthia Got Into Touring Through the Back Door

In 2010, the Calumet Heritage Partnership, of which Cynthia was on the board, held their conference at the Pullman National Monument. She developed a tour for the attendees that focused on the neighborhood’s infrastructure—the sewers, alleys and electric lights—that were installed in its earliest days.

Its success led to future tours: one about the Lincoln Highway and another about the Calumet River, which she led while on Metra’s South Shore Line. Her work with the Women’s History Conference caused her to understand how women “underwrote the history of men” by taking care of the family, thereby allowing men to achieve. The success of her previous tours led to a second tour of Pullman. She centered this one on the roles women played there in the 1880s and how George Pullman’s wife, Harriet, was as progressive as a woman could be at the time.

Below are some additional highlights from our conversation with Cynthia Ogorek, who is currently enjoying her retirement in Danville, Ill.

How would you describe yourself as a tour guide?

I’m enthusiastic for the subject. If somebody asks me to do a tour of a specific area, I’ll try to talk in a way that people can grasp it while they’re looking around. It’s easy to be distracted by visuals while the tour guide is trying to throw ideas in their heads. So I try to make it interesting. I also try to show the big places, but also some of the little, more secret places that are special.

What are your top 3 favorite restaurants in the city?

I recently moved away from the area, but I remember the Chicago Athletic Association had a good coffee shop on the first floor. I’m into restaurants with views or that are unvarnished and feel like stepping back in time. And rooftop restaurants are so fun! I like the Signature Room at the 95th at the Hancock or the Drake Hotel restaurant with views of Oak Street Beach.

What is your favorite city to visit, other than Chicago?

My favorite city is probably the one I’m in. I’m always discovering what I’m starting to call “secret places.” They are not necessarily worthy of a tour, but it would be cool to gather a group of these little finds and share what’s neat about it.

As an example here in Danville, there’s Temple Square. It’s the footprint of the former Masonic Temple and they kept the original archway. One wall of the building next door is a relief sculpture featuring the famous people from Danville. It’s a nice little park with tables and an ice cream shop on the corner.

When you visit another city, are there any places that you ALWAYS go to check out? Like libraries or grocery stores or do you stick to tourist attractions?

Libraries are like my second home. I always go to explore them in a new city. And there was a lesson remembered from a geography course in college. The instructor shared that no matter where they were visiting, they went to the grocery store. Now I do the same thing, just to see what people are eating, how are they set up (clean or dirty), how expensive, are the people nice and friendly. It’s an interesting way to learn about a community.

What’s your advice for things people should bring with when attending a tour?

Comfortable shoes, a camera and the willingness to absorb. Sometimes you just can’t concentrate on what the tour guide is saying. Try to remember what you’re looking at and learning about.

What kind of thoughts go into planning an experience?

There’s a lot of technical stuff. You have to judge how far people can walk and how far you’re going to route the tour. In Pullman, I wanted to make it logical. But I have to have a route that is more or less a circle. You have to end up where you started. Then, of course, the information and research that goes into it. You have to try to be as accurate as possible.

What’s the hardest part about being a tour guide?

The logistics! The last time I was supposed to give the south shore tour by train, I was doing it in conjunction with another person from Chicago. They were at one train station, we had tour buses booked to get everyone to the train station. And I was at a different station waiting for the buses. We were waiting and waiting for the busses. Turns out, one of the busses got hit by a car. We couldn’t even see a dent in the bus. But the bus drivers refused to drive, so the tour had to be cancelled. I couldn’t get to Randolph St. Station. We wound up sending everybody home and refunded the money.

Try Cynthia’s eATLAS tour of the Pullman district, Hidden Pullman: Sewers, Alleys and Women today! Use code Pullman20 to save 20% thru September 30th.

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